Judge Erich Asperschlager is Fabio.
Our reviews of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXXI: The Turkey Day Collection (published December 3rd, 2014), Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition (published November 26th, 2013), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIV (published February 18th, 2009), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XIX (published November 9th, 2010), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XV (published July 3rd, 2009), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVI (published November 27th, 2009), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII (published February 22nd, 2010), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVIII (published July 1st, 2010), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX (published March 3rd, 2011), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXI, MST3K vs. Gamera (published July 25th, 2011), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII (published November 24th, 2011), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIII (published March 16th, 2012), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV (published July 17th, 2012), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX (published March 14th, 2014), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXV (published December 5th, 2012), Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI (published April 1st, 2013), and Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVII (published July 18th, 2013) are also available.
"Cabot? Cabot!? Cabot!"
With the number of Mystery Science Theater 3000 collections rapidly approaching the number of Super Bowls, Volume XXX delivers another four-episode fix for jonesing MSTies.
Volume XXX kicks off with The Black Scorpion, the set's lone Joel entry, and the last Season One episode to get a home video release. (That's right, fans—the dream of a full season MST set is a reality! For those who own two hard-to-find Rhino releases, anyway.) This '50s giant insect movie isn't great, but it's got a few things going for it. Unlike the bulk of B monster movies, Scorpion ("I wonder if that thing could plow a driveway") was filmed on location in Mexico rather than on a studio backlot. It also boasts stop-motion creature effects by Ray Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien. The beasties are so cool they even earn a sincere shout out from Joel. If only they were in a better movie. Season One episodes have a reputation for being slower than later seasons, but Black Scorpion showcases the charming chemistry of the original SoL crew. Good on Shout! for ignoring grumbling fans and continuing to release Season One episodes. I'll miss them.
The rest of the set focuses on later seasons. From Season One we jump to Season Five's Outlaw (of Gor)—a Peabody Award-winning episode highlighted at special MST live college events back in 1994. Twenty years later it's easy to see why the episode is so popular. Outlaw is a Cannon International sequel based on a long-running series of fantasy novels written by John Norman, about a professor who is transported to an alternate dimension of loincloths, warriors, scantily clad maidens, and Jack Palance wearing a spectacular "split-top butter-top hat." The skimpy costumes and buffalo shots inspire Mike and the bots to song with the classic, "Tubular Boobular Joy."
Volume XXX's first Sci-Fi Channel episode is the Season Nine opener The Projected Man, which marks Mike and the bots return to orbit around present day Earth, and the beginning of Pearl's stay at her family's ancestral castle. The movie is a stuffy mix of science fiction and horror—the story of British scientists working on a matter transporter that turns into a monster movie when the lead scientist uses the machine on himself, with disastrous results. Like Gorgo, from a previous set, the bulk of the jokes take aim at England ("India must be so embarrassed to have been ruled by these twits").
The final episode is Season Ten's It Lives By Night ("Well, maybe it shouldn't drink so much coffee!")—another slow-paced movie about a guy changing into a monster. In this case, a man on his honeymoon is attacked by bats in a cave and then very gradually turns into some sort of murderous bat creature. In lieu of actual scares, the bulk of the movie is a PSA for rabies set against the rugged peaks and bushy mustaches of a '70s ski resort. The final third tries to be a game of cat and mouse between the bat-dude and a sleazy small-town sheriff, but it's mostly a mess that builds to a lame twist ending that just kind of gets caught in the movie's hair and then flutters off into the night.
The presentation and packaging is in line with previous Shout! MST sets: full screen video and 2.0 stereo audio, with four individual discs and Steve Vance mini-posters housed in a handsome slipcover case that will look nice next to the rest of your MST sets. The episodes themselves represent another good, if Mike-heavy, selection from across all ten seasons. It satisfies in every area but one: the bonus features. Compared to the bare-bones Rhino sets, Volume XXX is an embarrassment of riches. Compared to the stellar job Shout! Factory has done in previous collections, creating and curating extras about the show and the movies, Volume XXX is a step back.
On the plus side, all but one of the included bonus features are about the movies. I've long said that the best thing Shout! does in these MST3K sets is to pay tribute to the riffed films with informative documentaries about the people who made them and their place in movie history. "Bad" movies don't just appear out of nowhere for the purpose of being mocked by a TV show. They are the result of well-intentioned people having little time and less money to create something that will make money for other people. As a movie fan, I want to hear those stories.
• The Black Scorpion disc comes with a theatrical trailer (2:07) and "Stinger of Death: Making The Black Scorpion" (12:32), a featurette that explores Warner Bros.' run of killer insect movies of the '50s, the movie's director and actors, and Willis O'Brien's creature design.
Outlaw has the most bonus features, dividing about 26 minutes of making-of material into three parts:
• In "Writer of Gor: The Novels of John Norman" (12:43), the author's agent and publisher, Richard Curtis, gushes about the massive fantasy series. Curtis is hugely complimentary of the Gor novels, which gets a bit icky when he launches into a defense of Norman's "artistic" use of eroticism, in particular the "natural" way that willing female characters submit to their male masters.
• "Director of Gor: On Set with John 'Bud' Cardos" (6:29): The elderly director recollects his experience as a sci-fi director, brought in at the last minute to take over from the director of the first Gor film. "It was an okay picture…It wasn't my cup of tea." He's not alone.
• "Producer of Gor: Adventures with Harry Alan Towers" (6:51): Production manager Danny Lerner talks about Towers—including a tantalizingly brief mention of his past as a Russian spy—the pros and cons of shooting in South Africa during Apartheid, and his experiences with Palance (who was there to "collect a paycheck") and Oliver Reed (who was "most of the time drunk").
• The Projected Man comes with a trailer (1:29), and the making-of doc "Shock to the System: Creating The Projected Man" (3:52). There are some interesting tidbits here about the film and its production issues, but the problem is that film historian Tom Weaver rushes through the story like he's late for dinner. It's distracting, and annoying, and I don't know why anyone thought this was good enough.
• The only extra for It Lives By Night is an "extended" trailer (1:14) for Trace Beaulieu's short film "The Frank." It looks funny. I just wish it wasn't the only extra on this disc.
I feel bad complaining about the relative lack of bonus features for Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXX, considering the set delivers four more great episodes. It's hard not to, though, when the total runtime of all the extras is barely longer than just one of the documentaries produced for previous collections. In the old days, four episodes and a handful of extras were enough for fans. Hopefully it still is.
Not the meatiest set, but still very much not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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